New-car launches can dazzle you and bamboozle you. As a motoring journalist, once you’ve committed yourself to print, you can find your ears glowing bright like a set of S3 tail lights a few months later when you have finally driven the car on home turf and realised that, hey, the car is much more wayward than you thought, or maybe the power is not nearly as impressive at altitude.
I don’t think this is going to happen regards either the Audi S3 Sportback or, indeed, the very impressive diesel-engined Audi SQ5 launched in the Eastern Cape this week.
The launch programme managed to squeeze in both race track impressions of the S3 Sportback and mountain pass running of both models that included mid-corner dips and ripples, as well as freeway driving and even a little bit of what passes for traffic in the Port Elizabeth region.
Track testing the Audi S3 on launchTwo aspects of the Audi S3 Sportback stand out in my mind as I write this: the one is the car’s ability to adjust the line in mid-corner on the race track without any evidence of fun-robbing understeer, a tendency one still experiences with some all-wheel drive cars on the track. Commit the S3 to a turn-in point, dial in lock, aim for the apex and apply power, and the grip is extremely tenacious! Yet if you have arrived at the corner too fast, by turning in on a trailing throttle you can point the car in very much the fashion of a good rear-wheel-drive performance model.
Part of this accuracy must lie in the progressive-ratio steering, which adjusts the ”quickness” of the steering according to the amount of steering lock dialled in. And, oh yes, unlike some electrically-assisted Audis of recent memory, this one’s loading feels absolutely natural, giving you a good sense of how hard the front tyres are actually working in a corner, rather than a simulated tightening up of the steering system .
I noticed another excellent sporting chassis characteristic in the Van Staden’s Pass somewhere outside of the Port Elizabeth area (the geography of that region still confuses the heck out me). A brilliant, challenging, narrow undulating piece of roadway that throws mid-corner camber changes at the car, the Audi S3 Sportback over Van Syaden’s is never unsettled, and yet its rear-end is lively enough for you to make quick attitude changes mid corner, something that is vital when travelling quickly on windy, unknown roads.
Gearbox and engineThe Audi S3 Sportback is available here only with the S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox and that is perhaps a pity as Audi is making such excellent manual gearboxes these days. But most buyers in this market seem to love the hi-tech aspects of the paddle-shift system, as well as the effortless changing in traffic, so the decision is probably the right one.
The direct-petrol injected Audi is rated at 206 kW and 380 Nm, which are figures that are out-gunned, by say, the likes of the Mercedes A45 AMG. And yet the S3 is still rated with a 0-100 km/h time of 5,0 seconds, and in terms of the way this engine behaves it is a fine mix of progressive torque and an ability to rev into the red above the 6 500 mark with sweet, unruffled smoothness and a pleasing engine note. And fast, of yes indeedy.
Subtly aggressive looksOverall, the Audi S3 Sportback has an ambience of rock-soild chassis integrity that would make me feel that, yes, it probably is worth its R500 500 asking price. Appearance is a matter of taste, but I love the look of subtle aggression of the car, thanks to various S3-specific badging, lowered suspension, gaping intakes on the bumper section, large tailpipes and the attractive dual spoke 18-inch alloys (at the launch one of the models had single-spoke alloys which are equally-attractive in my book).
I am not a huge fan of the dashboard texture, which I find to be too dimpled for my tastes, and I don’t enjoy the rocket-man look of the fresh air vents, which seem somewhat Star-Wars-ish and out of context in a serious German machine. But the seats are wonderfully supportive in hard cornering and yet comfortable.
Audi S3 launch controlI never tried the launch control system which is available as standard on the car, nor did I try the cruise control, which is also standard. It is interesting that the S3’s launch control system allows what Audi terms “ defined tyre slip” which is designed to protect the transmission during hard starts.
All-wheel-drive flat-out starts can place an inordinate amount of strain on driver-train components when all that power is fed in without mercy and there is no sliding clutch action to soften the blow. When buying used, I would love to be able to see how many launch control starts one of these had actually been subjected to!
Audi S3 Sportback Specifications
|Model||Price / Power / Performance|
|Audi S3 Sportback||R 500 500 / 206 kW / 0-100 = 5.0 seconds|